What Does Cold Turkey Mean?

Cold Turkey Meaning

Definition: To quit something immediately and permanently.

When attempting to stop doing something, some people slowly begin to do the habit less and less until they stop doing it altogether. Others stop immediately, all at once, and vow never to do it again. This second way of quitting something is quitting cold turkey.

To go cold turkey is a difficult way to stop doing something. Many people, however, find it effective for building better habits. For example, someone who throws away all of the candy in their house and decides to eat healthier would be quitting candy cold turkey.

Origin of Cold Turkey

quit cold turkey meaningThis is an American phrase that evolved out of an older phrase: “talking turkey.” To talk turkey meant, in the early 1900s, to speak frankly, bluntly, and openly, to be bold, and to not censor one’s thoughts. The phrase to talk turkey would mean the same as to call a spade a spade.

In 1928, an English newspaper called The Daily Express wrote a using a slightly changed version of the phrase:

She talked cold turkey about sex. “Cold turkey” means plain truth in America.

In the 1920s, people began to use the phrase cold turkey to describe doing something that gets to the point quickly and efficiently.

Examples of Cold Turkey

what does it mean to go cold turkeyMost often, cold turkey has been used to describe drug withdrawals. People in rehabilitation from drug use will need to quit using drugs cold turkey. They will often need to be watched closely after quitting cold turkey because they will experience uncomfortable and often painful symptoms of withdrawals.

It is possible to quit other, less serious, things cold turkey. For example, one could quit smoking cold turkey or quit shopping for clothes cold turkey. These things are done suddenly and all at once.

More Examples

  • Quitting smoking cold turkey may be your best bet. – New York Times
  • She quit drinking cold-turkey, avoiding social events for two years while she adjusted to life without alcohol.  – New York Post


To quit cold turkey is to give something up suddenly and finally.